25/09/2018

Macmillan Cancer Information & Support Service launched in Central Library

I was pleased to get along the launch of the Macmillan Cancer Information & Support Service


People affected by cancer in Dundee now have access to much needed cancer information and support in libraries, following the opening of a new service in the city’s Central Library at the Wellgate Centre.  As the lead trustee for Library and Information services on the Leisure and Culture Dundee board I was pleased to attend this important event.

Macmillan Cancer Support has invested around £200,000 and is working with Leisure & Culture Dundee to provide three new cancer information and support drop in services in Libraries across Dundee. The first to open is the service in Central Library.

The new Macmillan Cancer Information & Support service will be run by a group of highly trained volunteers who can provide emotional and practical advice, access to information materials on various types of cancer and its treatment, or simply a listening ear. As well as specialist cancer information and emotional support, the service can refer people onto other services, including benefits advice and help to get active.

This is an excellent initiative and it is further proof of the great work being done in libraries across Dundee.  I hope that these initiatives from Macmillan in conjunction with Leisure & Culture Dundee make a difference to the lives of people impacted by cancer.

21/09/2018

Call for an end to routine movement of fire service resources

The Chief Fire Officer, the Chair of SFRS and
the Minister for Community safety at the meeting in Dundee
Last week I attended the Scottish Fire and
 Rescue Annual Review meeting with the Minister for Community Safety held in Dundee. I took the opportunity to ask two questions one about the routine movement of resources from Dundee to Aberdeen and the second one about the Scottish Fire & Rescue Service's response to the problem of Unwanted Fire Alarm Signals.

In the council chamber recently I was happy to second Councillor Michael Marra in our attempt to make representations the Scottish Government about the ongoing problem of fire resources being routinely moved from Dundee to Aberdeen.

At the recent meeting at West Park I took the opportunity to ask about this at the meeting of the Scottish Fire and Rescue Board with the Minister for Community Safety, as did the Fire Brigades Union. I was glad to hear the response that was received, when the Chief Fire Officer apologised and said that the Scottish Fire and Rescue Service had got work force planning wrong in Aberdeen. I was also pleased to hear the Chair of the Scottish Fire and Rescue Board, Dr Kirsty Derwent, say that such redeployment will not become ‘routine’. These reassurances are good and I was pleased that the Minister for Community Safety Ash Denham heard the questions and the answers. I will be looking for the Scottish Government to provide the resources which allow the Chief Officer and the Scottish Fire and Rescue Board to deliver on these promises.

Nobody is saying that there should not be a pooling of resources in emergencies, indeed I believe that there were resources from outside of Dundee at the recent major fires in Dundee, but it cannot become routine. The correct level of cover should be maintained in Dundee, and indeed in Aberdeen, at all times.

I also took the opportunity to ask about what more could be done to prevent Unwanted Fire Alarm Signals. Many of these come from institutions like student residences and hospitals. In Dundee many of these institutions are found in the West End ward. I want to reduce the number of Unwanted Fire Alarms because fire appliances responding to these calls under blue-light conditions put firefighters and the public at risk, it also costs money that could be better used. I know that there is a lot of work going on to reduce the number of Unwanted Fire Alarm Signals but I am concerned that we do not go down the road of cutting back in the response. We need to be sure that the response is always appropriate to the level of risk which hospitals and student residences create. There are many measures that could be taken to prevent many of these calls but reducing the response and putting people's safety at risk to save money is not acceptable.

I asked if more could be done in terms of building regulations and the regulations around renting property to make sure that the latest technology was being used to detect fire and allow firefighters to be more certain that they are responding to a real fire. There is more that can be done and hope that the minister will reflect on this and act accordingly.

11/09/2018

Support for Michelin workforce

As Labour’s City Development spokesperson in Dundee I am calling on the city to work together to protect jobs at the Michelin factory in Dundee.

I was disappointed to hear the news that jobs were under threat at the Michelin Factory in Dundee. The whole city must unite behind this factory and its workforce and look for ways to support the retention of as many jobs as possible.

I will be speaking to officers from the City Council to make sure that the company and the workforce receive as much support from the council as is possible. I will be looking to meet with the trade unions to discuss what can be done to support the jobs at Michelin. I will also seek to work with the company to hear about anything that Dundee City Council, the Scottish or UK Governments can do to assist the factory.

Protecting these jobs must become a priority for everyone with the best interests of our city at heart. I call on all elected representatives to work together to protect these jobs.

05/09/2018

Time to open up Camperdown House

Camperdown House open during 
the Flower and Food Festival


calling for Dundee City Council to work to develop a long-term sustainable use for Camperdown House.  Last weekend I joined thousands of others visiting Camperdown House after it was briefly open over the weekend at the Flower and Food Festival.



It is time that we found a long-term sustainable use for Camperdown House.  I was delighted to join many other people visiting the house at the Flower and Food Festival.  It was good to get the chance to visit the house but it is a shame that it is open so infrequently.  I am looking forward to opening of the V & A in two weeks time, the investment in culture there is very welcome I would now like to see attention turn to the future of Camperdown House.



Camperdown House represents an important part of the history of our city and of the United Kingdom.  Camperdown House belongs to the people of Dundee and those who are its current custodians should be looking for a long-term sustainable public use for Camperdown House.



Dundee and Angus College did a great job running a cafe in the house recently and I think that this sort of training facility is a way forward for the house.  I am urging Dundee City Council to look to work with partners to deliver a public use for Camperdown House which allows the people of Dundee to access the house.  I know that there are proposals in the Tay Cities Deal which could deliver this but whatever the outcome of the long-delayed Tay Cities Deal I want to see action to bring Camperdown House back into regular use.

I think there are a number of uses that Camperdown House could be put to but it is important that whatever becomes of the house that an element of free public access that says something about the history of the house and estate is retained.



Camperdown House belongs to the people of Dundee it is time that they got to enjoy visiting it on a regular basis.
I was pleased to speak to members of the McManus 168 group 
inside Camperdown House at the weekend

27/08/2018

Call for new Justice Secretary and new Chief Constable to maintain and improve Ryehill Police Station

Previously I joined Jenny Marra MSP and other local people calling for our Police Station to stay



I have written to the new Justice Secretary Humza Yousaf MSP over the future of Ryehill Police Station in the West End ward.  Police Scotland have previously suggested closing the station and whilst it has gained a temporary reprieve I am looking for the new Justice Secretary to back up the new Chief Constable’s commitment to localism by committing to maintaining the police presence at Ryehill and indeed improving it.



In response to the voice of local people Ryehill Police Station received a reprieve but there has never been a long-term commitment to maintaining the police presence in the West End.  I have written to the new Justice Secretary raising this issue with him and asking that there is a new look at this.  I hope that Humza Yousaf will see the need to maintain local police resources and will support the people of the West End in their call for an effective police presence at Ryehill to serve the West End.



I welcome the new Chief Constable to his post and I note his commitment to local solutions.  I think with this in mind he should look at the need to maintain and indeed enhance the police presence at Ryehill.  I have written to him welcoming him to his new post and wishing him well in it and asking for a long-term commitment to maintaining the police station at Ryehill.



Events over the last few days have made the case for an improved police presence at Ryehill.  On Sunday the bookmakers just a few metres from the police station was subject to a robbery.  Surely,  a stronger police presence at Ryehill would have acted as a deterrent in this case.



I do not just want Police Scotland to keep the station open but it is important that a public-facing service is available to the people of the West End.  I am maintaining my call not just for Police Scotland to keep ownership of Ryehill Police Station but for an improved service which regularly interacts with the public and is clearly the place where the public should make first contact with the police.  I hope that the new Cabinet Secretary for Justice and the new Chief Constable will agree with me.

Where is the City Deal?


I am concerned and frustrated about the lack of progress on the Tay Cities Deal.  I am a member of the Tay Cities Region Joint committee and  I was surprised to learn that the meeting that was scheduled for 24th August was cancelled.



I am happy to be a member of the Tay Cities Region Joint Committee it is a good example of politicians working together across party and geographical boundaries with other partners in the interests of people in our area.  I want to see progress on the Tay Cities Deal and I want to see investment in our city and region.  I was surprised to learn that the meeting of the committee scheduled for 24th August was cancelled and a meeting is now scheduled for September.


We need to see progress on the deal.  This is not good enough.  In recent weeks we have seen the unedifying sight of both the UK and Scottish Governments engaging in a pointless blame game before the deal is even published.  UK and Scottish ministers might enjoy their political games but I am looking for the Tay Cities Deal to invest in jobs for Dundee.  Jobs for Dundee is what I want to see.  We need action rather than posturing and we need a deal which benefits the people of Dundee and the wider Tay Cities region.



I hope that by the time the committee eventually meets that there is something positive to report about Tay Cities Deal.  We have been waiting too long for this, we need action and we need to get it right for the people of Dundee.  I am looking for a deal which delivers jobs and investment for Dundee and the surrounding area and which makes a real difference.

My colleague Councillor Kevin Keenan first called for a city deal for Dundee back in 2013 I fear that we have missed the boat with the delays and prevarication since then.  I am clear that our priority has to be jobs for the people of Dundee.



Call for West End DumpingTask Force

Over the summer I have called on Dundee City Council to set up a task force to combat the situation which happens every summer where large amount of furniture and household goods are dumped in the summer months around the West End as tenancies come to an end in private rented flats.

Every year I get lots of complaints in June, July and August about items of furniture which have been dumped often when tenancies come to an end.  As a local resident I see these items of furniture around the West End.  I have spoken to officers in the Environment Section of Dundee City Council and asked that they look at ways of dealing with this.  I have suggested a task force which is charged with proactively dealing with the problem.  I am clear that there should be no amnesty for people who are responsible for items being dumped and that tenants and landlords should act responsibly and dispose of goods in a responsible fashion.

I am clear though that the people of the West End should not have to put up with excessive amounts of dumped furniture littering our streets.  We need to catch culprits and we need people to behave responsibly but we also need not to punish the rest of the community for the irresponsible actions of a few.  I am pleased to say that I have been told that my idea will be included in a review of the work of the Environment Section and I hope that it will make a difference to  the quality of life of the people of the West End.

Creating and Keeping Community Wealth in Dundee

I am calling on Dundee City Council to use its economic power to promote community wealth building and ensure that investment by the city council and other public bodies in the city benefits the people of Dundee.

This is an exciting year for Dundee, we are seeing some very important developments come to fruition.  It is disappointing that the people of Dundee have not received the maximum benefit which they could have from these investments, the contracts goes to large businesses with little staying in the local economy.

I want Dundee City Council to look at what has been done elsewhere in places like Cleveland in the USA and Preston in England.  In those cities the city council decided that they should use their economic clout to make a difference to their communities.  Instead of outsourcing profits and jobs consideration was given as to how money could be kept in the local economy.  

In some respects this is about how contracts are let, making sure that local companies can compete by not making the contracts so big that only multi-national companies can apply for them.  It is about employing local people where possible and about buying from local suppliers where possible.  Often when a business in Dundee goes bust politicians line up to wring their hands and say how terrible it is whilst at the same time supporting a system which stops the local council from spending money locally as the default situation.

This so-called ‘Preston Model’ has been attracting interest and I have written to the City Council Chief Executive asking that he might look at ways in which the policy of the council could be changed to build local wealth.  John McDonnell MP has committed a future Labour Government to working on this agenda.  You can read more about this in the Co-operative Party pamphlet about it.



26/04/2018

'Failures in Fundamental Controls' - Report on Fraud at Dundee City Council


Regular readers will remember the case of former Dundee City Council employee Mark Conway who stole over £1 million from Dundee City Council.  Monday evening's meeting of the City Council dealt with  a report produced by the Accounts Commission on this.
This is a report which every councillor and every citizen of Dundee should  be very very concerned about.
 
We need to start by being clear that one person, Mark Conway, is guilty in this and he was convicted in court.  But we should also be very concerned about a report which says that 'failures in fundamental controls within the council allowed this fraud to continue over a prolonged period.'

As a councillor I need to be able to trust the advice that I am given by officers.  I need to know that financial statements are accurate.  The report by the Accounts Commission demonstrates that this has not always been the case.
As councillors we need reassurance from officers that there will be no repeat of this.  We need reassurance that this cannot happen again.  We also need to know why auditors did not pick this up.

We also need a reassurance that council cuts did not contribute to this and allow one member of staff to accumulate a number of permissions and checks and balances were not in place.  The report points out that the individual concerned built up lots of responsibility over the years and was one of very few individuals who understood the systems.  The lack of segregation of duties allowed him to produce fraudulent invoices, pay them and then hide the evidence.  Despite strenuous denials from officers I find it hard to believe that the cuts which have led to fewer and fewer people working for the council did not contribute to this fraud.

At the Scrutiny Committee I proposed that the committee went further and wrote to the bank and building society concerned and the Treasury as well as the Gambling Commission and the Department of Culture, Media and Sport.
To say that I am disappointed with the responses would be an understatement.  We expect regulators to assist us.  In this case I feel that we did not get the protection that we could have expected from the banks, building societies, Financial Conduct Authority and the Treasury.  Neither did we get protection from the gambling firm William Hill, the Gambling Commission or DCMS.
In these times of austerity imposed on Dundee City Council by the UK and Scottish Governments why did these organisations not help us through their regulatory powers?
With regard to gambling I think that we should have a look at the support which the council gives and supports across the city to problem gamblers.  It strikes me that the gambling industry looks upon the occasional fine or ex-gratia payment as part of the cost of doing business.  Perhaps we should be stricter, perhaps we should question whether William Hill is a fit and proper organisation to hold a licence within the city.  I will certainly be making the case for more regulation of gambling.
What we need to know is that lessons have been learnt and officers have taken all appropriate actions to protect the public purse in the future.

24/04/2018

Protect Dundee's Fire Stations

Balmossie Fire Station
Kingsway East Fire Station

McAlpine Road Fire Station


Blackness Fire Station















I've called for the Scottish Fire and Rescue Service to protect fire stations in Dundee.  The Scottish Fire and Rescue Service (SFRS) arecurrently consulting on their future.  The consultation contains references to changing the fire station footprint.  Dundee City Council was due to decide on its response to the consultation last night but in light of the detailed amendments which I put forward they have postponed the decision until 14 May.



The Scottish Fire and Rescue Service consultation is incredibly short on detail and full of leading phrases. Who could be opposed to firefighters being given modern equipment to do their jobs, for example.  Worryingly though much of the consultation appears to be cover for cuts.  The headline issue is an apparent 20% pay rise for firefighters but there would be fewer firefighters and they would be doing an awful lot more than they do today.



There are suggestions that firefighters should respond to medical emergencies.  That is fine but it should be additional to the resources available at the moment through the Scottish Ambulance Service and the NHS not instead of it.



Most worryingly the document contains references to ‘reviewing’ the fire station footprint across Scotland.  The proposal put forward by the SNP Administration said that it was broadly supportive of proposals put forward by SFRS.  I was worried that this would be interpreted as support for changes to fire stations in Dundee.  On Tayside Fire and Rescue Board I was proud to have played a part, with others, in stopping plans to downgrade Balmossie Fire Station not once but twice.  I believe that Dundee City Council must make clear its opposition to any changes to fire stations in Dundee.  That is what I will be looking for when this item comes back to councillors.

Fr James Shine 100th Anniversary


A portrait of Fr James Shine in uniform along with a prayer card produced after Fr Shine's Death
The War Memorial at St Joseph's on Sunday
with floral tributes to Fr Shine and the over
200 others mentioned on the tablet
On Sunday I was pleased to be able to join the congregation at St Joseph's Church in Wilkie's Lane as they marked the one hundredth anniversary of the death of Fr James Shine.  Fr Shine had served as one of the priests at St Joseph's in 1914 and 1915.  Fr Shine was born in County Tipperary and was a priest of the Irish Diocese of Waterford and Lismore on loan to the Diocese of Dunkeld working in Dundee at the time he joined up.  He died in Boulogne on 21st April 1918 from wounds received whilst ministering to soldiers in his role as a British Army chaplain in World War I.

Fr Shine's story is one that should be more widely known.  Many people will be surprised to hear about this Irishman who volunteered to serve in the British forces during this turbulent time in relations between Ireland and Britain.

Whilst Fr Shine died 100 years ago I think that we should remember the sacrifice that he made. We should also look at that War Memorial at St Joseph's and the names of all those men who lived in the streets around the West End and resolve to do all we can to say never again.

As some readers will know I have studied the impact of the Irish on Dundee. In the course of that I was lucky enough to meet Fr Shine's great-nephew, Sean Murphy, who has done a lot to promote the memory of Fr Shine.

I would also like to draw attention to the excellent work done by the Great War Dundee Group in looking at all aspects of the First World War in Dundee.

19/03/2018

Welcome for low-carbon commitment

I welcome the fact that Dundee City Council’s Policy and Resources Committee agreed to my amendment to commit Dundee City Council to redirect resources to low-carbon activities.  The amendment was to a report entitled Sustainable Dundee and the amendment sets a direction of travel for the council in the future.



I welcomed the Sustainable Dundee report which was before us, it covered a lot of important areas and brought together a lot of the work which the council is doing.  There was an excellent deputation from Mary Henderson of Friends of the Earth Tayside.  After listening to Mrs Henderson I felt that she had made a strong case for an amendment about the future direction of travel of the council with regard to low-carbon activities.



My amendment said ‘Where possible funds should be redirected from high-carbon activities to low-carbon sustainable and renewable activities and where funds are spent outside Dundee they should be redirected from high-carbon activities to low-carbon and renewable activities.’  This is about promoting a direction of travel for the council.



The council is the custodian of the resources of the citizens of Dundee and it is important that we are able to hand on the resources to our successors both in terms of cash, facilities and the environment.  I hope that this way of thinking will influence council thinking in terms of future policies.



I think that protecting our environment is important and I will work with anyone to help protect it.  It is crucial that we plan for a future low-carbon economy which protects jobs and services.  We need to invest in a workforce which is ready for this next stage of economic development.

13/03/2018

Consultation on Car Parking Permit Scheme Essential


Let me be very clear I support residents’ parking schemes for people who live on the periphery of the city centre.  I know as a resident in the West End and a local councillor that people are frustrated that they cannot find a car parking space close to their house.

I am glad that at the meeting of the City Development Committee on Monday evening that the proposals put forward by the SNP Administration were amended.  The proposals put forward were designed to fail.  Along with my ward colleague Bailie Macpherson I amended the proposals so that there will be meaningful consultation on them.  I also think that it is important that the consultation includes the issue of cost.  The previous proposals were rejected due to the cost being too high at £80.  I understand that £62 is slightly cheaper but I still worry that it is too much to pay and still not be guaranteed a car parking place at all never mind close to your house.

I also know that as well as the cost people rejected previous proposals because they were a one-size-fits-all proposal.  The proposals before the council on Monday evening were a one-size-fits-all.  I think that the solution is for more bespoke fixes rather than a blanket scheme across large areas of the city.

My amendment was designed to help implement this policy.  The proposals suggest that the way to lodge an objection is by objecting to the Traffic Regulation Order.  This is not the way to gauge public opinion on this matter.  People who are in favour of residents’ parking scheme might object to the specific detail of the Traffic Regulation Order and therefore be counted as an objector to the scheme.  That is surely not what was intended.

 I am clear that in the areas near the city centre there is an issue that local residents would like to see dealt with.  Local councillors who I have spoken to all recognise that this is an issue.  I want to help the council and the people in Maryfield, Coldside and the West End wards get a policy that will work.

The report presented on Monday night says that this policy should be brought forward on a cost neutral basis.  That is not the policy of the council, it may be the preference of the SNP Administration.  The council has other parking schemes which do not work on that basis.  In Menzieshill there is a residents' car parking scheme which costs £8 per year.  I cannot see any justification that would suggest that the West End, Coldside or Maryfield wards should be different.

This is why I think that a full and meaningful consultation must also consult on the cost of the scheme. This committee should be presented with a number of alternatives.

Dundee City Council is currently pointing out how marvellous consultation is.  Dundee Decides is being held up as a great innovation.  I want to argue for more consultation on budgets.  I am also clear that this policy will fail if there is not a full and meaningful consultation on it.  Whilst I am pleased about the result of the meeting on Monday evening I will be watching to make sure that the consultation is as full and meaningful as it can be.

I would also point out that there was nothing in the report presented to the committee which aims to reduce the reliance on the motor vehicle.  I suspect all of us rely on the car too much, and I include myself in that.  I think that any plan for a residents’ car parking scheme needs to look at demand and find ways to reduce it.

I want to help Dundee City Council get to the point where we have a residents’ car parking scheme which works for people in the West End, Coldside and Maryfield wards.  I do not think that the proposal presented by the Convener on Monday evening would have achieved that and therefore I was pleased that the committee agreed to support the amendment put forward.

01/03/2018

Welcome for plans to mark heritage of former St Joseph's School SIte

At this week's meeting of the City Development Committee there was an item which sought to name the street at the development of houses at the new development on the former St Joseph's Primary School site.

In the past couple of months as work has taken place to knock down the old building a number of former pupils have spoken to me about their wish for the history of the site to be acknowledged.  I raised this with the City Development Department asked for my views on the street name I made my view known that I think that it should reference the former use of the site.  Therefore I was glad when the proposed name suggested was St Joseph's Court.  I think that this will allow the history of the site and the over eighty years of education to be marked.   I am glad to say that the new school is going from strength to strength on its new site but I felt it was important to acknowledge the history and heritage of this site.

27/02/2018

Welcome for Community Asset remaining in community ownership

On Monday evening Dundee City Council considered a report on the proposals to build an AC Marriott Hotel at Site 6 in the Waterfront near to the V & A.  I welcomed the report mostly because the council was retaining ownership.  This is the sort of thing that the Co-operative Party and people like John McDonnell have in mind when they  discuss things like Community Wealth Building.

I warmly welcome this report and want to stress how much the Labour Group supports Dundee City Council retaining ownership of the assets being developed at the Waterfront.

I think that it is very important that the council does retain an element of ownership in parts of the Waterfront.  That way, the people of Dundee will get some benefit from it.  It is important that the assets of the Waterfront continue to produce wealth for the community and it is good to see that the plan isn't to sell the assets off to some off-shore corporation that won't pay tax in Scotland, or possibly anywhere.

I hope that further proposals in Dundee will continue in this way.  It is a way of ensuring that some of the wealth created by these developments stays within the city and is of benefit to the many, rather than just the shareholders.

26/02/2018

Dundee City Council Budget - A Missed Opportunity


Let’s start by being honest about what was before us at the Dundee City  Council budget meeting last week.  We had a deal which in January the whole council said was not fair for Dundee, despite the intervention of the Green Party it is still not a fair settlement for Dundee, for our citizens or for our workforce.



The blame for austerity lies in Westminster.  Austerity is a choice made by the Conservative Government.  It is passed on to Holyrood where the Scottish Government refuses to use the powers of the Scottish Parliament to their full extent and passes on disproportionate cuts to local government.  Dundee City Council is then left with a really poor set of circumstances which annoy councillors but which much more importantly have a real impact on the people of Dundee.



The staff of Dundee City Council do an excellent job.  I hope that workers do get a pay rise, but we must also recognise that even if the settlements are more like the Scottish Government want around 3% and not what the trade unions are looking for, these still are not fully funded which means that they will have an impact on services.  So we are in the bizarre position that a pay rise for workers means a cut in services.



I welcome the extra investment for vulnerable children in the budget.  I hope that it does cover the cost pressures because it is unacceptable that year, after year, after year the budget in this area has been wrong.  We need to get in right for these young people and make sure that they are given the best start in life.



The proposals put forward by the Labour Group were innovative and intended to use the powers of the council to make a difference in Dundee.  They were intended to say that poverty and inequality are wrong and that we won’t just complain about it we will try and do something about it.



Last week the council heard the case eloquently put by representatives of the workforce in social care about the problems they face.  I am glad that changes were not forced through and I am also clear that any proposal which imposes split shifts or cuts in hours is unacceptable.



Labour put forward a plan which would have allowed those social care workers to do the job they want to do.  Allow them to spend longer with service-users and make a real difference to their lives.  We thought that this extra funding could have focused on trying to stop hospital readmissions.  The revolving door is good for no-one.  We need to recognise that there is one public purse and cuts to the council which lead to extra spending in the NHS are daft.



We also proposed to bring forward a plan to give access to sports and cultural facilities to disadvantaged young people in the city.  This is a big year for Dundee with the V & A opening and a focus on the city.  With Dundee being lauded around the world.  But this must be a big year for everyone in the city not just those who can afford it.  We need to make sure that the regeneration of our city is for everyone and not just a privileged few.  The Waterfront regeneration will be an abject failure if it doesn’t help everyone in the city.



We want to see fairness at the heart of what we do.  That is why Labour wanted to halt the increase in the cost of school meals and at the same time invest in a fairness fund that would allow work to be done to find a means of delivering a good quality meal to disadvantaged youngsters all year round. 



A number of SNP councillors said that they thought some of our proposals were interesting but they could not vote for them because they had not had enough time to analyse them.  We offered them time at the meeting to analyse our proposals.  We are prepared to give them to the SNP administration because we think that they will make a real difference to the city of Dundee.  We are not even looking for credit for bringing these forward



We want to make a real difference and deliver a budget for the many not the few.

09/01/2018

Dundee Needs a Better Deal

On Monday evening Dundee City Council's Policy & Resources Committee looked at the forthcoming budget process.  A paper was produced which showed that the council needs to find a further £15.7 million of savings this year.  This is on top of the something like £100 million which has been taken out of the council's budget over the last ten years or so.  The report can be found at pages 1-9 here.

The Labour Group felt that the paper only told us the facts of the situation and that we needed to make clear that we did not think that we should meekly accept more cuts for Dundee.  We continue to support COSLA's viewpoint that we need a fair settlement for local government and that this settlement isn't fair.

Therefore on behalf of the Labour Group Kevin Keenan put forward the amendment below:

'That Committee believes that the detailed settlement laid out in the report does not represent a fair deal for the people of Dundee or for local government in Scotland as a whole, notes that there is no current majority in the Scottish Parliament for the budget, resolves to stand by the cross party stance set out by COSLA and in doing so make joint representation across all political groups on the council to the Finance Secretary and the leaders of all parties in the Scottish Parliament ahead of the next budget vote calling for a fair deal for local government funding in order to avoid damaging cuts in local services. '

We were very pleased to see that the amendment was accepted by the entire council.  I spoke in the debate and pointed out that this was not about party political point scoring but rather was about doing what was right for the people of Dundee.  It is easy for politicians and political activists to make barnstorming speeches about the faults of others but we must be clear that the issues here about real people with real problems.  For example, there are people in Dundee using foodbanks; there are people in Dundee sleeping rough and there are people struggling to heat their homes - these (and many others) are the people who need Dundee City Council to get a fair settlement.  These are the people who need the council to provide services for them.

We should be clear that the days when we can say that there is fat to cut from councils were probably never true and they certainly aren't true now.  The proposed cuts will have a detrimental impact on communities and on the economy of Dundee.  If a company with  a turnover of £15.7 million was threatening to close then there would be much hand-wringing from politicians and campaigns would be started to stop the closure, well these cuts to Dundee City Council's budget should be treated in the same way.

I was pleased that Dundee City Council spoke with one voice about this important issue on Monday night, now we need action at Holyrood which gives Dundee a better deal.

20/12/2017

Call for Council Action over RBS Closures


As Dundee Labour’s City Development spokesperson, along with my colleague the Labour councillor for the Maryfield Ward Councillor Georgia Cruickshank we have joined forces to raise concerns about the future of Royal Bank of Scotland branches in Dundee.  We're are calling on Dundee City Council to use its position as a customer of RBS to put pressure on the bank to retain services in Dundee.

 

Councillor Richard McCready said, ‘It is a disgrace that the publicly owned RBS is continuing to abandon communities across Dundee as they already have done in the West End.  Dundee City Council banks with the RBS and I think we should be looking to see what leverage there is within that contract to put pressure on RBS to keep their Stobswell branch open.  At the very least I want the council to make sure that when the banking contract is renewed in 2019 there is a robust community benefit section in the contract.  This would call on whichever bank won that contract to undertake to protect services to the community in Dundee and I would hope to include a promise not to close branches within the city.  I would also be looking for the bank to deliver support for organisations like Discovery Credit Union.  I would want to make sure that who ever the council banks with that promoting financial inclusion is an important part of the social benefits promoted through the contact.'

 

'I will be writing to the council's Chief Executive to ask that the council makes its voice heard and joins the local community in saying to RBS that this is not good enough and that they should change their mind about closing the branch in Stobswell.'

 

Councillor Georgia Cruickshank said, ‘I know from the Stobswell Forum and from speaking to local people that they are concerned about the prospect of the RBS branch closing.  The bank branch brings people to the area and this helps other local businesses.  I know that a number of businesses in the Stobswell area are struggling and it is important that we do all that we can to promote the area.  It is disappointing to find out that the council banks with RBS at a time when RBS are planning to close the branch in Stobswell.  I am calling on the council to make its voice heard and tell RBS that as a major customer in the city we are not happy at their plans to close the Stobswell branch.’

 

15/12/2017

Free Wi-fi for the people

At the City Development Committee this week there was a report about delivering a strong free Wi-Fi system in the Waterfront. I recognise that there is a need for this development and I welcome it.  We also need to ensure that free Wi-Fi is available in the city centre and in the district shopping areas such as the Perth Road.

We also need to ensure that free Wi-Fi is available across the city.  There are great computing facilities as well as free Wi-Fi in our network of community libraries.  The libraries are not open all the time, though.  Given that what is wrongly called Welfare Reform is impacting on people across the city and that people are made to account for their activity online we should look at making sure that all the communities of Dundee have access to good quality free Wi-Fi.  Why not aim to be the most connected city in Scotland and have the most extensive free Wi-Fi network.

It is all very well offering free Wi-Fi to shoppers and tourists but all the people of Dundee including those living in areas of deprivation should benefit from this sort infrastructure as well as the many tourists that we hope will come to Dundee.  I would like to see free Wi-Fi as a benefit to all Dundonians, it should be available for the many not just the few visiting the city.

13/12/2017

Time for the People's Bus

The People's Bus from West End Labour & Co-op on Vimeo.

At Monday evening's City Development Committee there was a report which considered the council's response to Transport Scotland's consultation on the future of the bus industry. The legacy of bus deregulation from the 1980s is heard everytime a constituent complains to councillors about the bus service in their area.

I welcome the fact that the Scottish Government have undertaken to look at the future of the bus industry and legislate in the near future.

I have been campaigning on these issues for some time now.  The video at the top of the page is from earlier in the year and deals with some of the issues around buses which people in the West End have raised with me.

I think that we should be clear that the council’s inability to direct bus operators is a disgrace.  A disgrace given the level of support that the council gives to bus services in Dundee.  Maintaining bus stops, promoting bus use.  Yet we have little or no say over how the buses are run.  At present when we are consulted on changes to bus services, it is really about giving the council notice of things that are happening, rather than giving us the chance to influence a decision.

Two clicks from the Dundee City Council website gets you to the websites of commercial bus operators.  I am not aware of other commercial bodies which the council facilitates in such a way.

I welcome the City Council’s response to the consultation.  We need effective partnerships with bus companies.  I would welcome local franchising, this is how the bus service runs in London and whilst it is not without its problems, it is an effective network.  I strongly welcome the chance for the council to directly run services. 

Sharing data is hugely important to allow us to deliver the best service possible for the people of Dundee.

We need a bus system which serves the interests of people not one which merely serves the interests of the shareholders.  We need a bus service which is just that a service rather than run solely in the interests of the shareholders.




12/12/2017

Fair Funding for Essential Services

On Monday night at the council's Policy & Resources Committee there was an item setting out where the council is in terms of budgets.  The UK Budget was announced last month and the Scottish Budget will be announced in Holyrood on Thursday of this week.

The report  produced by the council's Executive Director of Corporate Services suggests that over the next three years the council may need to cut as much as £70 million from our budgets.  This is a frightening prospect, this would have an impact, as previous cuts already have had, on people right across Dundee and on the health of the economy of our city.

The Conservative Group put forward an amendment which laid the blame for the financial situation at the door of the SNP Scottish Government.

The truth, of course, is somewhat different.  The UK Government has chosen the path of austerity.  A political choice by the Conservative Government.  The Scottish Government has largely acted as a conveyer belt for austerity and passed on Tory cuts especially to local government. A political choice by the SNP Government.

On behalf of the Labour Group I made clear that we would be looking to work with anyone to protect jobs and services in Dundee.  Comment was made last night that the Conservative amendment was merely designed to embarrass the SNP.  I do hope that the Conservatives were not just trying to embarrass the SNP and I also hope that the SNP's biggest issue is not to avoid being embarrassed.  I made the point that this is much more important than petty point scoring.  Decisions made at the Budget in Dundee City Council have a real impact on the lives of real people in Dundee.  This is far too important to play games with.  All of us who are councillors have a duty to do what we can to deliver the best outcome to the people of Dundee.

COSLA, the Scottish local government body, has put forward a very interesting case for council's delivering essential services.  I think too often we are apologetic about what local government does. As COSLA say local government is democratically elected and provides a breadth of essential services to Dundee's communities which; support and protect all in our society; tackle inequalities; promote a fairer Scotland through inclusive growth; local government creates opportunities for every citizen which strengthen communities.  Local Government in Dundee is a key economic driver in the city and we should not be ashamed of that we should rather celebrate this.

The Leader of the Council said that he had already made representations to the Cabinet Secretary for Finance about the deal for Dundee.  I welcomed that and asked that he, in the spirit of openness and transparency, share the representations he has made.

The Labour Group is clear that we will work to achieve the best outcome for our city, we will work with other parties on the council and outwith the Council Chamber with trade unions and the communities of Dundee to deliver the best deal we can aimed at protecting jobs and services.

Last night we saw an early outbreak of 'it wisnae me' syndrome, with the Conservative Group in denial about the impact of ongoing austerity on the people of Dundee and likewise the SNP Group in denial about the impact of the conveyor-belt of austerity that the Scottish Government has become.

It is ironic, of course, that the Scottish Government has so-far refused to use the full powers of the Scottish Parliament to provide more resources for local government yet it is the same Scottish Government which complains about councils who didn't use their full powers to raise the Council Tax by 3% last year.  Those councils who didn't use their full powers include the then SNP-majority-led Dundee City Council who pushed through a 2.5% increase despite there being a proposal from Labour to increase the Council Tax by 3%.

The Labour Group will work with others to deliver the best deal for Dundee but we need the other parties to be bold and ambitious for Dundee.  We need the other parties to be prepared to stand-up to their political masters in Holyrood or Westminster and put the interests of Dundee first.

I am clear, as are my Labour colleagues, that we were elected to deliver the best services we can for the people of Dundee.  That is out priority.  We are not mere pawns in political game of chess.  Our duty is to do what we think is best for Dundee not what we think will please our political parties or go down well at a party meeting .

Labour is up for the challenge and we hope that all other councillors are as well.

08/12/2017

End Period Poverty

Monica Lennon receiving support from Dundee University and DUSA
for her proposed bill 
Today is the final day of the consultation on the Members' Bill put forward by Monica Lennon MSP on the issue of period poverty.  I have responded to the consultation indicating my support for this proposal.

Menstruation is a natural bodily function for women.  Sanitary products are important for maintaining health.  The fact that cost can determine whether some women are able to afford these essentials is wrong.  I support this proposed legislation because of this, it is important that we find a way of providing access to sanitary products in such a way that involves no stigma.

As the local councillor I was really pleased last week to see the University of Dundee and DUSA supported the proposal and are also providing free sanitary products before the Scottish Government implements a policy to provide free sanitary products in educational establishments.

A number of retailers have been looking at ways of assisting with this issue and, for example, the Co-operative Group has undertaken to pay the VAT on sanitary products.  Scotmid Co-operative and others have supported organisations such as Positive Steps to provide hygiene packs for the homeless.  I hope that this proposal will be taken forward in the Scottish Parliament.

30/11/2017

Life chances for young people - wake up call for Dundee

https://www.gov.uk/government/publications/state-of-the-nation-2017
I was really concerned to read the recent report of the Commission on Social Mobility.  The report highlighted that unfortunately Dundee still lags behind in terms of the life chances of the young people in our city.  There are still huge discrepancies between the educational performance of the poorest and the most well-off in our city for example.  This report should be a wake-up call to all of us in Dundee. A lot of good work has been done, for example, in the Fairness Commission, but it is clear that we need to do much more.

We must make Dundee a real Living Wage City. That means that we should be saying that companies will not get any public contracts unless they pay the Living Wage including to sub-contractors. Dundee City Council should be leading a city-wide campaign to make all employers Living Wage employers.

The education statistics are very concerning. We should be doing all that we can to even up the playing field, so that every child in Dundee has the right to achieve their potential. Far too often the life chances of young people in our city are determined at a very early age, this is unacceptable. All of us in the city should want the very best for every child in the city.

I accept that many of these problems have been around for a long time but we cannot allow this situation to continue. Policy should be directed at improving the life chances of every young person in Dundee. Every child in Dundee should have the ability to reach their potential. When it comes to the council's budget I hope that every elected member will reflect on these statistics. Collectively every party represented on the City Council has failed some of the young people of Dundee. We should remember that when the council makes cuts it has a real impact on the lives of real people. The young people of Dundee deserve the best chance in life the council should work together to make sure that we are investing in education, especially in early years, to make a real difference to the life chances of every young person in Dundee.

It is not good enough to shrug our shoulders and move on - we need action to make Dundee, Scotland and the United Kingdom a fairer place.

17/11/2017

Don't cut Bus Pass Entitlement

I'm campaigning for better bus services

I was pleased that Dundee City Council spoke with one voice recently against the proposals by the Scottish Government to raise the age for entitlement for free bus passes. (pages 16-33)

The Council has vowed to fight Transport Minister Humza Yousaf’s plan to change the age at which people are eligible for a free bus pass, branding it “unwelcome” because of the city’s “high levels of deprivation”. 


Despite promising to protect the pass in its 2016 manifesto, the SNP Government has cut £9.5 million from the bus pass budget and is consulting on the future of the scheme. 

First Minister Nicola Sturgeon and the Transport Minister have both repeatedly refused to rule out raising the qualifying age from 60 to 65.

Under the SNP, there has been a decade of decline in bus services with: 

•             Bus passenger journey numbers down by 78 million

•             Nearly 70 million vehicle kilometres stripped out of the bus network

•             The number of bus routes registered with the Traffic Commissioner down by a fifth.

Scottish Labour introduced concessionary travel for older people and disabled people in 2006 and 1.3 million people benefit from the free bus pass.



My friend and colleague Neil Bibby MSP who Scottish Labour’s Transport spokesperson, has said:



“A Labour government introduced the free bus pass, allowing older people and disabled people the freedom to travel where they choose. 

“We will fight the SNP's cuts to the bus pass – and it is welcome that SNP councillors are finally realising the damage raising the bus pass age would do too. 

“The SNP has already cut £10 million from the bus pass budget and now it's consulting on plans to cut back eligibility and restrict the number of people who will get the free bus pass in future.

“In its 2016 manifesto the SNP promised that the bus pass would continue and said nothing about cutting it back. The SNP has absolutely no mandate to make these cuts. To do so would be a betrayal of voters' trust.

“Humza Yousaf should go and read his own 2016 manifesto and ditch his plans to cut the bus pass, which have never been endorsed by the electorate.”






I am pleased that Dundee City Council unanimously opposed plans to cut the bus pass scheme. It was good that Dundee SNP councillors recognised just how unwelcome this cut would be.  We say no to cuts to bus passes.  I’ll be campaigning against cuts to the bus pass and for improved bus services.